Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Migrant Worker

Today's picture was taken in 1935 in a migrant labor camp in California. The people were living in small tents and shacks, while working in the fields. During the Great Depression, these families were sometimes charged ridiculous rates just for a few feet of ground to set their tents up on. It was often the case that it was a huge struggle to make just enough for a little food.

I wonder what people would do today in these circumstances. I wonder if they would actually go out and work 12 hours in the field, or if they would just sit on the side of the road and starve.


  1. What people are you talking about? Most Dust Bowl migrants were displaced farmers, so they only work they were really qualified for was farm labor. Would most people today, during an economic depression resort to picking oranges in California labor camps or sit on the side of the road and starve? Is that your question?

  2. I think what he meant was that if people today were faced with the same choice, would they really work twelve hours a day to barely get enough to eat or would they throw up their hands and starve.

  3. All I can say is what I would do.
    When I was in my twenties, and raising a family I worked 3 jobs at a time. 2 of them were during the week and the third was driving a truck picking up milk from dairy farms on the week-ends. I still found some time to spend with my family.
    I got far enough ahead that I could buy a decent home and could stop paying rent.
    But to answer your question. I think most people would find something to do to earn some money, but there are others that would expect the goverment to take care of them or starve.

  4. gotta love the soup can extension on the exhaust!!!

  5. What!!!??? Take a menial job like that just to support myself? That is beneath my dignity! The government can just go a couple more TRILLION Dollars in debt to provide for me and pay for it by taxing the people fortunate enough to be working two jobs a LITTLE more to help pay for it!!


  6. No, I don't think they would. It's beneath them.
    My husband tilled up part of our back yard and put in a vegetable garden. He planted squash, okra, peas and tomatoes. It was more than we could use. When I picked them and took them to the neighbors, they were happy to get them, but when I told them to come pick them, themselves, They wouldn't.
    Actually I think they would rather stand on a corner with a sign saying "Will Work for food". Who in their right mind,is going to take them home, to maybe be robbed or worse?

  7. I noticed a few things from this picture. 1. the top of his stove pipe looks like it has been extended using tin cans. 2. Even being destitute he has the top button of his shirt done up, trying to look as respectable as possible. 3. Even the pockets on his shirt look "depressed".

  8. I live in an area of the country where we have many many migrant laborers from Mexico and South America. They work extremely long hours and are often "under the radar" so to speak, so their working conditions are often deplorable. Many of them are illegal "aliens" but still they are hard-working and honorable folk for the most part. We have many of their children in our church clubs on Wed. nights and they are well behaved and respectful (often moreso than our "regular" church kids, truth be told.)

    Interestingly enough we also have a very high rate of unemployment in our area. One can't help thinking that if Americans were willing to do such "degrading" work, there would be no need for illegal "aliens" to come into our country.

  9. Dan:
    Speaking of 'noticing things', aren't horseshoes suppose to be the other way up so the luck doesn't run out? Or perhaps this man is telling us that his has.

  10. I don't want to come off as a Mean Old Man, but it seems that kids today have it too easy and don't know that value of hard work. If you received gifts everyday, would your birthday be special? There is a lot to be said for the joy of doing some hard work and coming home and having a seat at the dinner table as opposed to sitting around the house all day long collecting a check for doing not a thing.

  11. I know what EMS is talking about,
    I have a large raspberry patch and when I would pick them people would be more than happy to sponge some of the picked one off of me.
    But when I would tell them to come and pick them themself, nobody showed up more tha once. I guess it was to much like work.
    I had more than I was going to be able to use I begged people to come and at least help me pick so berries would be not be going to waste.
    But unless I picked them for my "friends", and just gave them to them they would go to wast. Guess what, berries started to go to waste.

  12. Since I'm from Oklahoma, this series is of particular interest to me. When their farm started failing in the 20s, my father and his family traveled to Detroit, then California looking for work.

    Jason might be surprised to know how versatile displaced farmers were. My dad and his brothers worked in the auto factories and ship yards, learned welding, etc. and eventually made good livings for themselves and their families.

    My mother remembers riding down a street in L.A. and having "Okie" yelled at them because of the auto tag saying Oklahoma.

    "Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp" by Jerry Stanley is an excellent book (written for children) about the personal drive of the migrants at that camp and the cruel inhospitable behavior of some Californians to their fellow Americans.

    Thank you for doing this series.

  13. I understand what EMS and one of our anonymous posters said about neighbours not coming to pick vegetables, but I wonder if the problem might be that they are afraid to take more than their share?

    My best friend used to have a huge grape arbor, and after she and her husband had picked what they needed, they invited folks to "strip the vines". Most people left half of the grapes behind. "Oh, we didn't want to take too many!" She had to demonstrate what she meant by stripping the vines. Me? I knew I could take what I wanted, but until she showed me, I wouldn't have cut them back that far for fear of killing the plants.

    The old man who ran the little store where we waited for the school bus used to sell pretzel rods for a penny a piece. (Boy! Am I showing my age!) He once remarked he had to throw away the broken ones because no body would buy them. I took out several pieces and laid them together, and when asked me what I was doing, I told him I was "try ing to make a penny's worth." "Oh, here," he said, and handed me a half a sackful!

    However, there ARE some remarkably lazy people out there, and that's the truth.

  14. Personally, I would work the 12 hours a day, but whine about it a lot.

    No, wait...I DO work 12 hours a day, and I DO whine about it a lot. And I don't even have to break my back in a field under the hot sun.

  15. You know, A job is a job. Young people today think just because they have a college education, they are too good to cashier at WalMart or stock shelves at Tom Thumb. Hey, take that job and on your days off, look for something else. Support your self, don't be setting around mooching off others.

  16. PJM:

    Why would you wonder what anyone in those circumstances would do today?

    The answer is obvious - just contact ObamaMarx, Pelosi, or Reid and ask for another government-funded entitlement!! Didn’t you know - Uncle Sam is going to pay everyone’s mortgages, send everyone to college, pay our medical bills, and pay for the gas in our cars, too!!

    Carry on, Comrades!!

  17. Norkio:

    In reference to your comment re Wal-Mart, I hate that store with a passion and will never step foot inside one.

    It’s not because I’m a snob, but because the founder of Wal-Mart stole the idea for his stores from a Rhode Island discount chain called Ann & Hope. They were one of the first multi-department discount store in the country. Sam Walton visited Ann & Hope in the early 1960s and used them as the model for his stores - as did the founder of Kmart.

    I have many happy memories of shopping in Ann & Hope with my mother and sister, where we’d buy everything from school clothes and shoes to pots and pans and toys. And, of course, there was always the food concessions and the dime rides at the front of the store, including the famous “pony” that shook up your insides (after you ate all that greasy pizza), which made for a fun ride home in the car (“Mommy, I’m sick!!”).

    Since Wal Mart and Kmart and other similar stores eventually moved in to this area and put Ann & Hope out of business, I’ll never set foot inside one.

    Here’s some history which I copied from Wikipedia:

    Early Years

    Ann & Hope was founded by Martin Chase who was born in 1906 in Kiev, Ukraine, and moved with his family to Providence, Rhode Island at age six. He was the only one of six sons not to work in his father's automobile repair business. Instead, when he was 20, he got a job working at a store called Fintex. After Fintex closed its doors in 1929, Chase worked at Howard's Clothes until 1933. Then he started Chase Clothing, where he undersold other area clothing stores by reducing overhead: for example he did not offer alterations and used inexpensive store fixtures.

    As World War II approached, the clothing market fell into decline, and Chase began to look for another line of work. In 1946, he purchased the Ann & Hope Mill complex in the village of Lonsdale in Cumberland, Rhode Island. He split the large, empty mill into several small pieces and rented them individually.

    Some time before December 1953, one of the tenants left the Mill, leaving a large amount of ribbon behind. Rather than dispose of it, the Chases opened the area to the other employees of the Mill and sold the ribbon. Chase then had the idea to reopen a clothing store in the Mill, initially on the third floor. By the following spring, the operation had become large enough that it was relocated to the ground floor. Over time more products were added, and by 1969, Ann & Hope was a $40 million per year operation.

    Significance to Retail History

    Ann & Hope was one of the first self-service department stores, in which customers could look at items without sales personnel, and also was one of the first to use shopping carts in a department store. The original mill location also featured a large parking area, which was not common at the time, as well as a basement level with even more merchandise. A special carriage lift was operated by staff to get store patrons' items from one floor to the other. Other now-familiar features such as having a central checkout area and a liberal store return policy were also pioneered by Ann & Hope.

    Ann & Hope also had several features now common to big-box retail facilities. For example, some Ann & Hope stores had full scale cafeterias. When originally constructed, Ann & Hope stores also had an area that was rented to a sub-tenant, with both in-store and outside entrances, a variation of which is a relatively recent introduction in larger Wal-Mart stores. Many Ann & Hope locations had limited success renting to tenants, and before the chain's closing in 2001, many had been converted to store-run garden shops.

    Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, visited the Ann & Hope chain in 1961 and got the idea for Wal Mart here. and Harry Cunningham visited Ann & Hope in the process of preparing to launch the first Kmart store.

  18. In my agricultural area there are a lot of legal & illegal immigrants. There are plenty of hardworking people. There is also gang related crime, men arrested for having sex with their daughters, machete fights, a lot of drunk driving and public drunkeness, fortune telling scams, financial scams, quack doctors, and plenty of uninsured, unlicensed drivers in unregistered vehicles. Except for the vehicle offenses, most of the crime is hispanic on hispanic.

  19. Well, I think that the majority of America would in fact buckle down and get to work. I recall we had that same discussion on these comments 6 months or a year ago, and everyone at that time was saying how Americans will never give up and never give in, bla bla bla. Unless these are different commenters, what happened in the time between the last conversation and this?

    Yes there are people who will sit on the side of the road and starve. Yes there are people who will expect the government or someone to take care of them. That is the result of having a society with many public services (ones not started during the current administration, btw, but gee, right around the time of the Great Depression, ahem). People begin to expect a certain level of public assistance.

    On the other hand, in my opinion, I think people will do whatever they need to in order to survive. Whether that means planting a victory garden, walking or riding the bus instead of driving, or taking a more menial job than they are used to, I think they will do it. I faced this recently when I thought I might lose my job. I'm not to proud to work at Target even though I have a Masters Degree in Management.

    I also recall on another blog a discussion about how people with high levels of education are applying for jobs as secretaries and receptionists, and what a sad commentary on American economy that is.

    I guess I'm a little irritated with the lack of belief in Americans that I am seeing in the comments. There's been a lot of generalizations lately such as "kids feel entitled to every thing" and "they think they deserve..." but generalizations are created from the one negative example that outweighs the numerous positive ones. PJM do you think your students who created Picture Indian would just sit by the side of the road and starve?

    Rant over now. thanks for always posting thought provoking images - even ones of feathery hats.

  20. It is bad out there, boys and girls. I speak from the trenches. We live in the Atlanta area, which has been hit hard by job losses.

    I used to be a SQL server computer programmer (MS in IT, 20 years experience) but my job went to India three years ago and I haven't been able to find anything else -- except a part time job at Kroger at $7.40 per hour.

    My husband, also a computer programmer (AS400/iSeries, 30 years experience), is about to have his job sent to India. He is job hunting like mad. We are prepared for him to take a job out of state while we stay here since the housing market here collapsed and it is impossible to sell housing over 3 years old.

    We are holding our breath.

    We will be going from $140,000 to $7000 a year. Try to support 3 minor children on that! We deliberately bought a house we could afford on one income, and now that income is going away too.

    I am trying to get a sewing/quilting/alteration business started on the side as no one under 50 seems to know how to thread a needle. Of course this requires that I keep up the electric bill to run the sewing machines. I am also an avid gardener so have always tried to grow my own anyway as it tastes better. Of course this requires we keep up the mortgage payment on our acre of land.

    Yes, there are many Americans who work 12 hour days today. I have discovered how many folks at Kroger actually work 2 and 3 jobs, seven days a week, month after month. Some have a fulltime job and work weekends or the night shift after a full day at their regular job. Others patch together 3 part time jobs, trying to balance work schedules that change every week.

    If you stop and actually talk to folks working at Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, etc, you will discover many former professionals who are doing the same thing I am doing.

    Kroger has followed Walmart's example and no longer hires ANYONE full time unless they are coming in to the company fresh at management level. On the other hand, my manager (who is full time) worked her way up over 14 years and makes only $13 per hour now. That is $26,000 per year after 14 years of effort that brought her department up to tops in the zone.

    Don't bad mouth people because you think they don't want to work. Sometimes the world falls out from under them. It is a hell of a thing to go from $140,000 a year to less than $7000 a year thru no fault of your own because some big shot thinks the programmers in India are cheaper and better. The official poverty level for a family of 2 adults and 3 kids is $25,694. I guess we will qualify for food stamps, but will have no place to live.

    If things are this bad for educated people, how bad is it for folks with just a HS degree?

    American jobs need to stay in America.

  21. I never meant to imply that farmers are only capable of farming. I live in an agricultural area (in fact, its probably very close to where these CA Dust Bowl pictures were taken), and I know that farmers do more then plant seeds and play with dirt. Of course farmers are also mechanics and machinists possess all sorts of skills. My point was, displaced farmers would be more willing to work long hours for low pay because of the type of people that are (salt of the earth type, if that's the proper expression).

  22. On the direction of the hanging horseshoe: I thought they were supposed to be pointed down for luck? Is that right?

    I had one hanging in my room as a kid that was pointed down ... maybe this explains a lot.

    Great blog, by the way.

  23. Courtmerrigan, they are supposed to be pointed up so the good luck doesn't spill out, at least that's what I always heard.

    Good lively discussion, all!

  24. This is why we won't be "working in the fields" if there is another depression: "In 1790, farmers were 90 percent of the U.S. labor force. By 1900, only about 41 percent of our labor force was employed in agriculture. By 2008, less than 3 percent of Americans are employed in agriculture."
    There is still plenty of dirty work to do, but the fact is there is much much less manual labor than there was decades ago. http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams010610.php3


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